Cove veteran presents Purple Heart to President Bush
By Joyce May
The Cove Herald
WASHINGTON – Bill and Georgia Thomas reported they were elated Monday when they met in the Oval Office with President George W. Bush to present him with a Purple Heart."We were just absolutely bowled over. Without reservation, it was one of the highlights of our life. He was such a gracious host," Thomas said. "It was just an incredible, incredible experience."
The couple was able to meet with President Bush for about 20 minutes to present him with one of three Purple Hearts that Bill Thomas received during his service in Vietnam."He said he didn't feel like he had earned it," Thomas said, noting the president looked thinner in person than on television.
The Thomases also were able to meet Barney, the president's Scottish terrier, and tour the White House Rose Garden.
Thomas said he and his wife came up with the unprecedented idea to present the president with the Purple Heart over breakfast one morning a few months ago as they discussed the verbal attacks, both foreign and domestic, the commander in chief has withstood during his time in office."We feel like emotional wounds and scars are as hard to carry as physical wounds," Thomas said.
The medal was awarded to Thomas on Dec. 18, 1965, following injuries he sustained while serving in heavy combat with the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vietnam.
Thomas said the Purple Heart he presented the president has special meaning to him because the injury he suffered to earn it occurred just after a friend, Richard Peterson, lost his life attempting to save him."The hand grenade came in, and I didn't see it. Before diving, which he should have ... he pushed me down and the delay cost him his life," Thomas recalled. "Shortly after that, I was laying in position ... and took a .50-caliber round that shattered my shoulder blade and virtually took out my right lung."
Thomas said he drew up a citation and he and his wife signed it before dropping it and the medal off with Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, to forward to President Bush.Carter later called Thomas to inform him that the president was very moved by the gesture and would like the couple to present it in person."
John Carter was so helpful and so gracious," Thomas said, noting that he and his wife were also able to have dinner with the congressman and his wife, Erica.Thomas took a copy of the original citation showing the origin of the actual medal and presented it as a companion piece with the citation he drew up for the president.
He has drawn criticism from some locals who have learned of his actions, Thomas said. Nevertheless, he said he earned the Purple Heart and it is his to do with it as he sees fit."I feel the President deserved one," he said. "The bottom line is, I paid for these Purple Hearts with my blood."